The mountains are beautiful. I could not have picked a prettier day to come to Denver to see you. The sky is clear and blue and bright, the air is chilly and the mountains that you love so much are snow-capped. It’s really quite perfect. I understand why you chose to stay here.
But I missed you today. I will miss you for a long, long time.
Today on the airport shuttle, heading to my rental car, the guy next to me was on his phone. And he says – quite clearly so the entire car can hear as we are forced into full body contact so everyone is quietly uncomfortable – he says into his phone, “Hey Steph, I hear you’re newly single. So… when are we going to go get a drink?” Pause. “It’s Rick.” Another pause. “Yeah, I know it’s soon… oh, just yesterday? I heard it last night… but anyway, you’re single now, you got to get out there.” Longer pause. “Yeah, ok, let me know. Bye.”
Seriously. Who am I supposed to text that absurdity to now?
For eight years, you have been my best friend, confidant, coach, business partner… you have been that shoulder I have repeatedly soaked with tears, you have been that irritant pushing me to focus on the unpleasant aspects of life I wanted to hide from, you have been loving, loyal, judgmental, pushy, supportive, encouraging and above all, you have been present. You were there.
Over the course of our friendship, we have weathered the waves of closeness, of distance, of testing trust and boundaries, of broken marriages and relationships, of building a business, of sorting ourselves out. We have not always been at the same place at the same time. We have not always agreed. We have walked away mad and returned thoughtful. We have pushed against our own boundaries and each other’s. We have grown, we have learned, and through it all, we have remained connected.
A few weeks ago, you told me how sorry you were that you were not available to be supportive to me while I was working through an emotionally devastating rift in another relationship. You were sorry. For having cancer. For fighting for your life.
The sorrys I have to say about this don’t begin to cover it. Because you were wrong, Shirley. You were not unsupportive because you couldn’t be. Cancer didn’t prevent you from being there. You were not able to be there because I didn’t let you in. I didn’t call you and burden you with my drama… because I wanted you to have all your energy to focus on you. I thought that was a good thing, that was what friends should do.
But despite your cancer, despite feeling crappy and rotating through drugs and scans and treatments, despite trying to keep your work alive through coaching, you were there. In that moment when I was broken and hurting and I told you everything, you were there. You were always there and I had been too self-involved to see that my choice to not share my life with you sooner was creating space, not strength, between us.
We destroy intimacy and closeness when we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And we cannot judge that vulnerability. There is no better or worse pain, there is no“my suffering is greater than yours.” Not between people you love, there isn’t.
Because for all the times I thought, “I can’t tell her about this… it’s so much less important than fighting cancer,” for all the times I held back not wanting to bore you or have you think I was trivial and dramatic, I missed the opportunity to build an even tighter bond with you, to show you how I really felt about having you in my life. To show you that I loved you enough to trust you with my stupidity, and to know that you would love me anyway. And the hardest part is, I did. I did trust you.
And now I am in this position where I can not share with you anymore.
I have winter coat envy. It’s severe. I was sitting in the airport, on my way to see you, and I was watching all the women stroll, stride and sometimes jog by in their winter jackets. Some are heavily padded, some are woolly and knobby, some sparkly or brightly patterned, or, my favorites, fur-trimmed.And I’m gazing at their coats like a hungry house cat monitoring the goldfish and guppies in the living room fish tank. I haven’t bought a winter coat in eight years. I haven’t lived in winter in eight years. And now I’m finding that I need a coat. It’s an obsession. I don’t want to buy until I find the perfect mix of style, warmth, and that funky bit of something-something that makes it mine. So, I’m compulsively staring at all these women travelers, picturing myself in their coats, trying not to seem creepy. Not sure I’m succeeding.
You would have been the first person I texted that too.
Because it’s nonsense. It’s absolutely true, but let’s face it, in the grand scheme of life it’s so ridiculous and unimportant and yet… these were the random, idiotic and still somehow entertaining pieces of our lives we shared with each other. And I never hesitated to send you that bizarre random note, and had you received that one, you would have laughed at me then asked me to send you pictures. And I would have – and totally killed my attempt to be non-creepy, but I still would have.
Just like the time I sent you awkwardly angled photos of a certain coworker’s beach-scene sundress – the kind three-year olds wear because their mothers make them: with the big red sun umbrella on them and frothy blue waves against golden sand with colorful toy buckets and sailboats – that dress along with the hot pink flats with the giant rhinestones on them. You remember her – a middle-aged corporate vice president showing up at work in a three-year old’s dress and shoes. Those photos were great.
Yes, it was bitchy and judgmental… and so damn funny.
Over the years, I must have sent you literally hundreds of those kinds of text – short stories far too long for the text format, observations of myself and others in a way only meant for the vault. After all, If your best friend isn’t the vault of your secrets, who is? These small, silly vignettes made up the moments that showed just how open and trusting I was with you – I exposed my worst self without hesitation.
Until you got cancer. And then I did hesitate. I became careful about what I shared because sometimes my ridiculousness didn’t seem entertaining at all… just ridiculous. And I didn’t appreciate enough that maybe in the stress of your day, the battle to just survive and enjoy each day as you could, each day as it came, that my absurdity might still be entertaining. Might still be a path of connection for us.
And my not-so-absurd moments. The ones I didn’t want to burden you with because they were hard enough for me to handle, much less thinking that anyone else wanted to handle me handling those moments.
How stupidly selfish we can be and we justify it as generous.
When I first sat down to write you, I thought, ok… you know how wordy you get. Keep it to 1000 words… and then I thought… WTF? The world just lost a Dirty Girl. A damn good one. The Original. And you are not to be contained a mere 1000 words. So I write to you, Shirley, to honor all that you have given me, taught me, and been for me in the eight years of our friendship.
- You taught me to trust. And you pushed me to face my gremlin. It was – and continues to be – messy, grinding work. But well worth it.
- You made laugh through the pain. In some intensely difficult moments, you showed me it was ok to enjoy the absurdity. Laughter doesn’t erase the pain but it helps you cope. And so does lava cake.
- You reminded me that I was not a terrible mother at the times I most needed to hear it. That reassurance, any mother will tell you, is priceless.
- You showed me what it was to listen – without judgment, to just be present in the moment.
- You taught me that our journeys are all uniquely our own, and yet we all have so many commonalities.
- You taught me to respect my needs. I am not too demanding. What I want is not unreasonable. And yes, I want it all.
You taught me so much more. And I am sure others you have loved, coached and supported over the years can add many more lines to what you brought to our lives. And I know this letter is deeply personal, and it seems like it is more about me than you; but it is the best way I could think of to showcase the kind of soul you are, the kind of impact you have had. On my life. On so many lives.
Everyone needs a Dirty Girl in their life. Regardless of age, regardless of gender. We all need that person who sees us through and through, who loves our dark as well as our light, who reflects back what we need to see and who allows us to follow our own path even when we can’t see it clearly. Who challenges us, who pokes us, and who comforts us and protects us. Who is there.
I am so grateful I had you, Shirley. And I will miss you for a long, long time.